The National Association of Evangelicals recently came up with a new definition for what it means to be “evangelical.” It is all based on beliefs, not behavior, denomination, race or political affiliation. According to Christianity Today, “(The report) defines evangelical by theology rather than by self-identity or denominational affiliation.” According to the NAE, evangelicals are regularly identified in research and polls; because researchers use different tools to identify evangelicals, results vary from poll to poll.
Find out if you or your church fits the NAE’s new label of evangelical.
Those who strongly agree with these 4 statements are considered evangelical:
- The Bible is the highest authority for what I believe.
- It is very important for me personally to encourage non-Christians to trust Jesus Christ as their Savior.
- Jesus Christ’s death on the cross is the only sacrifice that could remove the penalty of my sin.
- Only those who trust in Jesus Christ alone as their Savior receive God’s free gift of eternal salvation.
We reached out to some Lutheran and Catholic Church leaders* to respond to the new 4-part definition, since Lutheran and Catholic denominations do not often get included as having evangelical beliefs.
Changing Perceptions of Evangelicals
There was consensus among there church leaders that the newly defined evangelical principles could affect how evangelical Christians are perceive and who chooses to identify as evangelical.
“I appreciate that this new definition of evangelical keeps the focus on Jesus and I don’t disagree with the statements. I fear that words and affirmations without actions are like faith without works,” said Pastor Ben Griffin, of The Alley Church in Cottage Grove, Lutheran Church- Missouri Synod affiliation.
“I think this will take away some of the “negative stigma” that is often directed toward the evangelical movement by those who are opposed to it,” said Pastor Keith Grimm, Family of Christ Lutheran Church in Ham Lake, Lutheran Church- Missouri Synod affiliation.
More Cohesion and Understanding Among Christians
In general many church leaders believed this new definition could bring more cohesion and understanding among Christian denominations who otherwise may not have worked collaboratively for the Kingdom of God.
“I appreciate this effort to help Christians move beyond denominational labels to identify our shared beliefs. So, there may indeed be a benefit to exploring such a definition with other Christians in our search for unity,” said Father Erich Rutton, Chaplain and Director of University of St. Thomas Campus Ministry in St. Paul.
“It is definitely more approachable and keeps the Word of God at the center. We need to learn to stand in unity with Jesus as the head,” said Pastor Ben Griffin.
Including More Churches, People
Some of these church leaders agreed by streamlining the definition of evangelical to these four questions, more Christians and more churches could be included in the evangelical category.
“I think you would receive various answers (on whether LCMS fits the evangelical label) depending upon who would answer this. We fully agree on the 4 defining principles. The LCMS believes the Bible is inspired, inerrant and infallible and that we are saved 100% by God’s grace alone, through faith alone, and Scripture alone. However, because of our stance on the Sacraments of Baptism (infant) and the Lord’s Supper (believing in the Real Presence), sometimes we have a differing view then some churches that are considered evangelical. However, many LCMS pastors (including me) are on board with the evangelical movement,” said Pastor Keith Grimm, Family of Christ Lutheran Church in Ham Lake, Lutheran Church Missouri Synod affiliation.
But according to some Catholic scholars Father Erich Rutton of the University of St. Thomas consulted with, the new definition gives them cause for concern.
“Among a couple Catholic scholars I consulted, there was some disappointment that the principle of inerrancy is not included in the (new evangelical) definition. This has been the hallmark of evangelicalism, setting it apart from mainline/liberal Protestantism which routinely affirmed Scripture as its highest authority even as it denied its objective reliability. There was some concern that the definition you gave would cover individuals who would not identify as an evangelical,” said Father Erich Rutton, University of St. Thomas Campus Ministry, Chaplain and Director.
Clarifying Denominational Differences
The new definition also clarified differences in beliefs, where certain denominations disagree with evangelical beliefs. Regarding statement 1, claiming the Bible as the highest authority for what evangelical believe; Father Rutton said Catholics assert the Word of God is the highest authority, but for Catholics, this includes both the Scriptures and Apostolic Tradition.
“’Dei Verbum’, the document on scripture from the Second Vatican Council, confirms that the “teaching office [magisterium] is not above the Word of God, but serves it.” (Dei Verbum n.10) The pope is not the highest authority for what we believe, God is. Another way of saying this is that Catholics see Christianity as a religion of the Word, not simply a religion of the book,” said Father Erich Rutton, University of St. Thomas Campus Ministry, Chaplain and Director.
Some church leaders, like Pastor Ben Griffin of The Alley Church believes his Lutheran Church- Missouri Synod denomination is evangelical in stance and theology, but challenged the LCMS denomination to be more evangelical in its mission regarding statement 2: “It is very important for me personally to encourage non-Christians to trust Jesus Christ as their Savior.”
“However (the LCMS denomination) is often struggling in practical application. There was a time in the LCMS past where church planting and evangelism were hallmarks of the mission. As of late the Biblical principle of evangelicalism remains, but many (certainly not all) are not evangelical in their action,” said Pastor Ben Griffin, The Alley Church, Lutheran Church- Missouri Synod.
According to the new 4-part questionnaire, both Pastor Ben Griffin and Pastor Keith Grimm believe their Lutheran Church- Missouri Synod churches are evangelical; Father Erich Rutton did not believe the Catholic Church is evangelical, because Catholics do not strongly agree with all four principles.
How does your church compare? Do you personally agree with the 4 defining principles identify you as evangelical?
Read more about how the National Association of Evengelical’s new evangelical definition could transform the way evangelicals are perceived by the public and portrayed in census data or other surveys.
The Atlantic – “Defining Evangelical”, Its meaning has shifted throughout Christianity’s long history and changes depending on who you ask. Why?
Christianity Today – What Is an Evangelical? Four Questions Offer New Definition, NAE and LifeWay Research say belief should trump politics on surveys.
*We tried contacting many Historically African American Churches in the Twin Cities to see if they identify as evangelical, but have yet to get any responses.